If you ask someone who has never meditated what they think about meditation they'll picture incense sticks, prayer flags, chanting vegans and free dancing. While these examples might be a little extreme, and have almost nothing to do with meditation, they are associated by being pigeonholed as alternative or spiritual. For a lot of people the S word is a big barrier, it initiates an involuntary cringe and immediate inability to take anything said afterwards seriously. I know all this as for 31 years I was a cringer. I gave mediation very little thought other than thinking it wasn't for me. This has all changed.
Nowadays, I rarely go more than a few days without some form of meditation. I've been doing this for almost 2 years. It has been an immensely positive thing for me to discover. While I am no expert, I wanted to explain a few things I've learnt along the way that, had I known, would have helped me get over the mental barrier and allowed me to try meditation sooner.
1. Don't call it mediation. Call it mindfulness. While some will argue that the two are different, ignore them for now. I think so many people are hung up on the word meditation that it makes them uncomfortable to think about trying it. Think of it as simply being mindful and that can help approach it in a different way.
2. Do nothing. That's it. That is the aim. It is harder than it sounds. In our hectic lives it is very difficult to truly do nothing. No listening to music, no reading, no daydreaming. Just being in the moment. The aim of being mindful is to be aware of what is happening right now. When you start to do this you realise it is actually quite a rare and special experience.
3. You don't need to close your eyes and sit cross legged. While I'd recommend starting with your eyes closed and seated, it isn't essential. You can be mindful running, walking, even cycling once you learn the technique. It is a strange experience to try walking or running mindfully for the first time. This has helped me a lot with trail running.
4. It isn't about stopping all of your thoughts. I originally thought meditation was about switching off all my thoughts, having a completely blank mind and finding Zen, despite not knowing what it meant. None of these things have really happened. What has happened is I've learnt to understand my thoughts and emotions more and am able to have much better control of them. This has been an incredibly useful skill to learn.
5. It doesn't take long. You don't need to sit for hours on end. You can see a huge benefit from taking as little as 10 minutes a day to be mindful. I started at 10 minutes and now choose to sit for 15 minutes every day. It can easily be built into our busy schedules.
Why do it?
If you observe the natural world, animals spend a lot of time doing nothing. They have very few distractions. Years ago we wouldn't have been too different from this. Whenever we take time away from our busy lives we often seek ways to replicate this. Some of us sit on beaches, some go on retreats, some go camping and spend time in nature. While we are all different we all see the value in switching off and doing nothing. We have created a lot of distractions for ourselves in our modern world and while a regular mediation might not initially sound as tempting as sitting in the sun on the beach, it can help us to train our minds and disconnect on a daily basis which is so very important.
If you haven't ever given Meditation or Mindfulness a go I challenge you to try it for a few days. There are lots of ways you can get into it but if you're like me and want the simplest, quickest, no nonsense approach I recommend using the Headspace app. You can download the app on your phone and try it free for 10 days. (I am in no way affiliated to Headspace other than using it myself.)
If your still sceptical, watch this great animation about why you should meditate:
and if you want a slightly longer explanation try this Ted Talk from Andy Puddicombe who explains it much clearer than I do.